About one-third of the planet, or roughly 2.1 billion people, are Christians. Each spring, this large subset of the population celebrates the religious miracle that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Lenten season is one of the holiest times of the year on the Christian calendar. This is a period of 40 days and nights that begins with Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent and lasts through Easter Sunday. Many Christians celebrate Easter but may not know the significance or meaning behind certain days on the Lenten calendar. Here is a primer on the Lenten season for Christians and non-Christians alike.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the season when one prepares for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter and will vary according to the calendar.
Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation, which means parishioners are expected to attend mass to mark the beginning of the holy season. During the mass, celebrants receive ashes in the form of a cross on their foreheads. The ashes are made from burning the blessed palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday mass.
In ancient times ashes were worn as a symbol of sorrow, repentance and acknowledgment of sins. Nowadays, ashes allow Christians to humbly display an outward sign that they are aware of their shortcomings and are cleansing their souls in the preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and it is a day of obligation when Christians attend mass, and they receive fronds of blessed palms. Occurring a week before Easter, Palm Sunday commemorates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street and shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” to honor him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.
Holy Thursday is the Thursday preceding Easter Sunday. It marks Jesus Christ’s last supper with his disciples. His act of breaking bread and offering it as His “body” and sharing wine as His “blood” has become an integral part of the Christian mass. It is representative of Christ giving up His life in place of our sins.
Good Friday is also known as Black Friday but should not be mistaken with the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday. It is the day that Jesus had to march to his crucifixion site while carrying an extremely heavy wooden cross. Jesus was mocked, spit on, tortured, and forced to wear a crown of thorns during His journey after being arrested by Judas and then suffering at the hands of Pontius Pilate. After being nailed to the cross at His palms and ankles, Jesus suffered for six hours before He died. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the people.
The holiest day of the season is Easter Sunday. On this day, Jesus rose from His tomb. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found Jesus missing. Jesus then approached her and showed how he was again alive. His disciples were shocked at the appearance of his resurrected self, furthering their faith in him as the Son of God.